If nothing else, however, Lowe has really good taste. The guests he’s invited to fill out his tunes, and sometimes take solo turns, are varied in their appeal, but unassailable. Erin McKeown may have the finest voice and delivery in contemporary music, and Lowe’s “Blood on the Mountain” gives her couplets to chew on like, “When the sun goes down, I remember his death/Just the thought of his love helps me catch my next breath.” Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithfull, and Wilson Pickett sideman Marc Ribot gets two great pieces to work solo assaults on, the best being “He Will Walk Across the Water (We Will Walk Across the Water),” Lowe’s meditation on the difference between religions made up of followers (Christians) and those who might instead band together (Jews).
Matt Shipp’s two solo piano pieces are sublime. Scott Robinson’s contra-bass clarinet on “I Licked Bird’s Blood” is so low it braaats out like a whoopee cushion, but it is a great complement to Randy Sandke’s trumpet and Lowe’s alto sax laying down acid in the manner of Charlie Parker, the “Bird” of the title.
There’s no doubt that Lowe is a phenomenal sax player. His accompanying of himself on the “Soundtrack Theme from the Film Jews in Hell” (which I’m pretty sure is not real) succeeds wildly, a pretty tune with dark string/keyboard undertones, like a sad walk down the pier for a hero who’s just gotten what he wanted and realized it wasn’t what he wanted after all. Lowe’s guitar playing depends on your taste. He revels in the blues, especially, indulging in vamps and struts often, including the title track that references Crouch. But while he’s mastered every track here, and the mixes are always solid, he doesn’t seem to pay any attention to his guitar tone, or he makes it purposely grating/basic, and his playing might be a representation of the difference between understanding the instrument, which he clearly does, and being able to play the instrument, which still seems to elude his fingers a bit. His leads aren’t what you’d call crisp or smooth, but it all depends on what he’s trying to do. I don’t think he’s trying for B.B. King.
Is he trying for outsider? Do outsiders ever try to be outsiders? Would Allen Lowe really be happy if SPACE accepted him, put on one of his shows, as 50 or so appreciators of the avant garde showed up and shuffled around? Or does it maybe suit his purposes more to be excluded?
Quoting Lowe, Jews represent “a cult without a leader, freelance wise-asses without portfolio.” Who am I to argue?
On the Web
Allen Lowe: www.allenlowe.com
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Sam Pfeifle: firstname.lastname@example.org